The Dallas Stars have not been to southern Florida to visit the Panthers in nearly two calendar years (January 2009). The Stars defeated them 4-1 on that night but things are not the same this go around. You may see Florida Panthers on the schedule and think "Oh, good, we can beat them right?" but you'd be surprised: These Panthers are good. They might be very good.
They've won their last two games by a combined score of 9-0 on the strength of magnificent goaltending by Tomas Vokoun, who after four days off will surely be in goal again tonight. They manhandled the team that manhandled the Stars on Monday night (TBL) by a score of 6-0 on this same ice. They have surrendered the fewest power play opportunities in the league, averaging only 4 PIM/G. Their 1.25 GA/G is also the lowest in the league.
Mike Heika of the DMN spoke with Defending Big D Live last night about opposing teams' strategy to pressure the Stars as much as possible to create mistakes/opportunities. This is something the Panthers agree with as well.
Vokoun told the Sun-Sentinel "In past years we were chasing the puck and when we got it we would lose it. Now, we're playing pressure hockey so I think, how could a team shoot if they don't have the puck? We block a lot of shots, too. … That brings the shot total down so it helps me. Obviously, scoring some goals helps, too.''
Given what the Stars have been dealing with lately, this sounds like the perfect hockey storm tonight at Bank Atlantic Center.
The good news for Stars fans is that Jamie Benn will be back in the lineup tonight.
More after the jump...
The intense ice cream headache we got from watching the Stars play on the road last year seemed to have disappeared with back to back wins away from the AAC to start the season. Their third road game, however, did not go so well as the Stars were, no matter what the final score said, dominated pretty badly in every facet of the game (save goaltending) in Tampa on Monday. Should they fall again tonight, the road-ice cream headaches are back, but could be soothed with a nice six game home stand starting on Saturday.
The term "bag skate" was thrown around a bit after Monday night's effort but the Stars coach knows it's too early to "go off the deep end" with his players. (This is a pre-pun). Instead the Stars went on a fishing trip on Tuesday to get a little rest and bond on the road. (see?)
Jamie Benn will be back in the lineup tonight and Brandon Segal is expected to move up and play with him and Steve Ott.
Barch/Sutherby-Wandell-Petersen (your guess is as good as mine)
Kari Lehtonen will make his sixth consecutive start in goal.
It's October 21st and the Panthers will play only their second game in front of their home crowd. The first was a rousing success as they defeated the Lightning 6-0 last Saturday night. They've been home practicing and waiting for the Stars ever since.
I said it before the jump but it bears repeating: The Panthers have the lowest GA/G in the league. They have not allowed a PP goal.
They are led in scoring by Rostislav Olesz, David Booth and their captain, Bryan McCabe, who apparently is still in the league. They boast a 19 year old who is NOT a rookie on their blue line in Dmitry Kulikov. The young Russian was taken 14th overall in 2009 (after the Dallas Stars selection in the first round) and played 68 games with the Panthers last year.
This is another young(ish) team that will likely make Dallas skate hard than they would like. The Stars have to find a way to play better positionally and possess the puck more in an effort to stay out of the penalty box against them.